Marxian Economics Revisited

Marxian Economics Revisited

The contempt frequently expressed by many economists toward Karl Marx first began to dissolve when the growth of monopoly and the possibility of such disturbing phenomena as unemployment became genuine realities. More and more, social scientists came to agree that Marx’s examination of the economic system in its totality was relevant to the problems at hand. They noted that he had tried to work out carefully and analytically relationships between the various social and economic components. He even set up “models,” so dear to the hearts of modern theorists. But above all, he dealt with technology, underconsumption, unemployment and the concentration of capital. These were big questions and Marx sought to supply the big answer. That he was not always able to come up with the right one is beside the point. The fact is, he was a serious thinker who dealt with serious problems. That so many of his supposed intellectual descendants assert all the Marxian phrases to be absolute truth is merely sad, for this reveals them to be precisely the sort of fools Marx abhorred.

Orthodox economists had evolved through the years some fairly elegant analytical structures from which, as Mrs. Joan Robinson, the noted British economist, says, it was possible to derive with great accuracy the value of a cup of tea. Marx, although possessing much cruder tools, exhibited a far deeper sense of the meaningful: his formulations of economic problems tower over most of the works of his time “in rough and gloomy grandeur.” Capitalism was in a sense to be admired, for it had an historic mission, to wit, spreading its productive power over the face of the globe. It enforced the accumulation of capital and thereby increased the wealth of nations. Marx wanted to demonstrate, however, that the major benefits of this inexorable process accrued to the few and it was because of this fundamental “inner contradiction” that capitalism was bound to stumble.

Despite his passion for agitation, Marx was at heart a scholar who, as Joseph A. Schumpeter once remarked, wrestled with the relevant facts and ideas and frequently came up with really useful generalizations. Marx was interested, said Schumpeter, “… in the problem as a problem [and] was primarily concerned with sharpening the tools of analysis proferred by the science of his day, with straightening out logical difficulties, and with building … a theory that in nature and intent was truly scientific whatever its shortcomings.” The historical method he employed was remarkably effective and the interrelations of social change with given modes of production could not be denied.